My Real Family

Many adopted teens struggle to feel like they belong
Many adopted teens struggle to feel like they belong. Illustration by Elise Swenson, a senior at Thomas Edison High School in Minneapolis.
Megan Ray met her biological parents this year after 18 years
Megan Ray, a senior, met her biological parents this year after 18 years. Photo courtesy of Megan Ray
Cecilia Wick-Shifflet, a junior, was adopted from China
Cecilia Wick-Shifflet, a junior, said strangers don’t react as much to seeing her mixed Chinese and white family as they used to do. Photo courtesy of Cecilia Wick-Shifflet
Reporter Gabe Hewitt
Reporter Gabe Hewitt is a senior at Columbia Heights H.S.
Being adopted can take extra emotional work. – Kate Maloney, program manager of Adoptees Have Answers

Many adopted teens struggle to feel like they belong

Megan Ray, a senior at the School of Environmental Studies in Apple Valley, met her biological mother in early September after 18 years.

“It was surreal and overwhelming,” she said.

Ray’s biological mother was a minor who put her up for adoption after Ray’s biological father, an older man, didn’t stick around after her birth.

Ray’s mother hoped adoption would give Ray the life that she would have wanted growing up, Ray said.

Adoptees Have Answers, a program funded by the Minnesota Department of Human Services, estimates there are more than 100,000 adopted or fostered people in Minnesota.

It’s difficult to track adoption trends, according to a report by the United Nations, because the way countries collect information differs. But the data that is available suggest adoption rates peaked between the 1960s and 1980s and is on a downward trend now, according to the 2009 report, “Child Adoptions: Trends and Policies.”

According to Minnesota’s annual Child Welfare Reports, here are the number of children adopted after being removed from their families because of abuse or neglect. Until they are adopted, the children are wards of the state.

  • 2000: 636
  • 2005: 732
  • 2006: 572
  • 2007: 672
  • 2008: 757
  • 2009: 653
  • 2010: 598

The number of children who are adopted from the state of Minnesota, meaning they’ve been removed from their parents’ custody and the state is legally responsible for their care, ranges from about 550 to 750 a year. See sidebar. Other parents, like Megan Ray’s, voluntarily give up their children for adoption.

When she was seven, Cecilia Wick-Shifflet asked her mother why people always looked at them in public. Her mother told her it was because they looked different from each other.

Her white parents adopted her from China when she was just 10 months old. The DeLaSalle High School junior has known she was adopted since she can remember.

Many children are adopted from foreign countries. According to a 2010 report by the U.S. Department of State, families in Minnesota families adopted 397 children from foreign countries that year. A 2009 report by the United Nations found the United States has the largest number of adoptions from foreign countries, and the country it adopts the most children from is China.

Today, her family doesn’t get as many looks, Wick-Shifflet said.

Wick-Shifflet said she feels different from other people, but she doesn’t feel ashamed of her adoption.

“I feel like people are more aware that more people are being adopted today,” she said. “I think people seeing other people with different color skin and accepting that it does happen is fairly new.”

Like many adopted teens, Wick-Shifflet’s parents adopted her because they couldn’t have children.

“Research shows that it’s very beneficial for adoptees to connect in various ways to share their stories with others who have had similar life experiences,” said Kate Maloney, program manager of AHA.

Maloney was adopted as an infant and said adoptees can share similar challenges throughout life. They have suffered a major loss with ongoing grief. They can be sensitive to rejection, confused about their identity, feel guilt and shame, and have trust issues.

Being adopted can take extra emotional work, Maloney said.

“We really ‘get’ what younger adoptees are going through at (different) life stages,” Maloney said of employees at AHA, all of whom were adopted.

AHA offers support groups led by adult adoptees for youth and older adoptees. The program also hosts and sponsors events such as networking meet-ups, author and open mic sessions, and more. The programs are currently offered in the Twin Cities and St. Cloud area, but Maloney and AHA hopes to start more groups in other areas. For more information about AHA, visit